Annika Bentley — Live at the Abbey Pub, Chicago, 1/24/02
Annika Bentley is a young artist creating insightful, pretty music that will inevitably be compared to nebulously similar musics, previously created by female artists who may or may not have written similar tunes than she. Put another way, into a world too quick to generalize any female singer-songwriter’s work as sentimental stool-folk worthy only of a side stage at a future Lillith Faire, Bentley has quietly put forth her distinct, recalcitrant brand of oddly-attired pop music, with the hope that people will just listen with an open ear.
This can be difficult.
On a Thursday night in Chicago, Annika Bentley is trying faithfully, desperately, to ignore the types having a laugh in the back corner. It’s not their fault; the pints are flowing, and the Abbey Pub’s music room is a dark, smoky affair that lends itself to nooks and crannies. Towards the back of the venue, away from the stage, they might get the feeling that one can speak freely. But that’s when they fuck up. And then they get the stink eye from Annika, whose fractal, lilting performance enjoys the silence between notes as much as the analog groove kicked up by her bandmates’ cello and an upright bass. Be embarrassed you weren’t listening. And kick yourself in the shins when she’s famous.
Bentley’s music is guided by her voice, an instrument that soars and whispers, hinting at the sinister qualities of Polly Jean Harvey while still retaining a crystalline virtue that’s intrinsically her own. As she alternates between guitar and piano, her melodies are backed by her mother (!) Kathleen Fraser on double bass, cellist Ian Downey, and drummer Otto Hauser. Because of her classical turns on piano, and a certain similarity in vocal delivery, comparisons to Tori Amos are inevitable, and maybe a little apropos. But at Thursday’s show, Bentley’s chamber-core reminded me more of a sans reverb Dream Academy, or perhaps some middle ground between the quiet moments of Sarah McLachlan’s Solace and Mary Timony’s post-Helium riffs on Medieval fairytales.
I have just made the mistake of comparing Annika Bentley to numerous female artists who have used the tenets of pop music to reach for a more austere, introspective, or cathartic – yet still rocking – result. But this doesn’t have to be a bad thing, as long as Bentley isn’t critiqued into a corner, labelled before her own muse has a chance to reveal itself. And in the details Thursday, it did. All influence aside, the music was passionately, painfully original, to the point that it demanded an attentive listener. As such, it was unfortunate that the audience onhand was on the smaller side, and a bit more interested in bullshitting than an acknowledgement of the raw talent on stage. The loudtalkers in the bunch missed out on a few prescient moments in Bentley’s set – a whispered vocal here, an inspired chord change there – that suggest widespread greatness in her future.
Here’s hoping that, next time, they listen.